What Is It?
Hyundai redesigned its midsize Sonata sedan for 2020, and for 2021 the Korean automaker adds the new Sonata N Line — a variant that focuses on higher performance via a powerful Smartstream 2.5-liter turbocharged engine and N Brand design elements. The 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line sedan also receives chassis upgrades and a sporty interior designed to expand the Sonata range. The peppy Veloster was the first Hyundai model to receive N treatment, and both the Elantra and Sonata join the N Line lineup for 2021.
The 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line is based on the Sonata SEL Plus, and it joins the Sonata lineup alongside the SE, SEL, SEL Plus and Limited. Starting MSRP for Sonata N Line is $33,300 — between the Sonata SEL Plus at $28,300 and Sonata Limited at $33,950. Hyundai provided us with a 2021 Sonata N Line finished in Hampton Gray with a black interior. Equipped with optional summer tires and carpeted floor mats, the price as tested comes to $34,674 including a $1,005 freight charge.
For the 2020 model year, Hyundai engineers reimagined the Sonata with a distinctive, more dynamic design; the 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line builds on that foundation with a more aggressive front fascia and cascading grille, three air intakes and N Line badging. The profile reveals 19-inch alloy wheels with 245/40 R 19 tires, side skirts and gloss black mirrors with integrated turn indicators. At the rear, Sonata N Line adds a black lower bumper, an N Line rear diffuser, quad exhaust outlets, a rear spoiler and full LED taillights.
Hyundai N Performance
Hyundai’s N Line name gets applied to the automaker’s higher-performance cars designed at Hyundai R&D in Namyang, South Korea, and tested at Germany’s famous Nurburgring racetrack. In addition to Veloster N, Sonata N Line and Elantra N, Hyundai has announced an additional three N and N Line versions will be added through 2022, following the Elantra N later in 2021, for a total of seven N or N Line vehicles.
Under the Hood
The 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line is powered by a new turbocharged version of Hyundai’s 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. The Smartstream unit receives a new cylinder head with integrated exhaust manifold, piston cooling and other internal modifications to produce 290 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque from 1650–4000 rpm. The engine gets mated to a new N 8-speed wet dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters for manual shift-mode. Developed by N Brand engineers for performance and high-torque applications, the transmission is similar to the one in the Veloster N.
To improve handling, the Sonata N Line suspension gets upgraded performance via stiffer springs, stiffer stability bars, mono tube dampers with N Line shock tuning, more rigid chassis bushings and other chassis stiffening. Brakes are upgraded to 13.6-inch front rotors, 12.8-inch rear rotors and premium pad materials. The quick-ratio, rack-mounted, motor-driven steering system improves steering feel and feedback.
Inside, the Sonata N Line also receives performance updates including N sport front seats with Nappa leather bolsters and Dinamica suede inserts; a leather-wrapped N sport steering wheel; red N Line stitching on the seats and steering wheel; dark chrome trim; a 12.3-inch LCD instrument cluster; and aluminum pedals.
On the Road
The 2021 Sonata N Line presents as a good looking yet stealthy ride. Although the N Line exterior updates create a more aggressive, performance-oriented look, they don’t actually tip off a casual observer to the level of performance under the hood — at least in the subtle Hampton Gray of the test car. Other paint choices such as Glowing Yellow and Calypso Red would definitely make Sonata N Line stand out more. On one hand, the Sonata N Line can be a practical, comfortable midsize sedan for everyday family use, and on the other a blast to drive on winding back roads.
N Line Interior
We were impressed by the new interior when it debuted last year on the 2020 Sonata, and the N Line treatment makes the 2021 Sonata feel like a sports car thanks to the Nappa leather / Dinamica sport seats, sport steering wheel and red stitching. The N Line includes the 12.3-inch digital instruments and the 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen. The sporty interior fits well with the N Line exterior upgrades and performance bump. The Sonata N Lines is a car that drivers will appreciate; it’s easy to settle in and feel comfortable during a drive of any length.
Torque on Tap
The new 2.5-liter turbocharged engine in the 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line has maximum torque on tap, available from a low 1600 rpm on up to 4000 rpm. The new 8-speed wet dual-clutch transmission does an excellent job of smoothing shifts and being in proper range when casually cruising in automatic mode or during more spirited driving in Sport mode.
The Sonata N Line has the demeanor of a sport sedan, making it fun to drive on twisty back roads. The chassis feels balanced and the steering responsive with excellent feedback. The Sonata N Line handles exceptionally well — even with all power going to the front wheels — although we would prefer rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive for this level of potency.
The traction and stability control systems do a great job putting power down when exiting corners without too much intrusive intervention. Sport mode allows a little bit of wheelspin, although the Sonata N Line still has strong pull out of tight corners. In Sport + mode the traction control system turns off so it’s easy for drivers to generate excessive wheelspin, thus requiring progressive power application for smooth launches and balanced corner exits.
Balanced and Controlled
The 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line feels balanced and controlled through combinations of tight, slow corners or faster sweepers. The steering turn-in is responsive and the car transitions nicely from side to side, making it fun to drive in a spirited manner. The brakes also feel good, offering progressive pedal feel and confidence when diving into tight corners.
The Sonata N Line is a practical, economical midsize sedan, but it also has the performance upgrades to be a lot of fun to drive in a spirited way. The exterior design updates create a performance look, yet they are subtle enough to create an understated, stealthy look — at least with an understated paint choice. The Sonata N Line is a practical car that can actually pull double duty — serving the everyday needs of a midsize sedan, yet with the performance upgrades to take on back roads at the first opportunity. The 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line delivers a great looking, fun-driving, performance-oriented sport sedan at a competitive price.